Never Give Up
By DANNY MINTON
I remember 1968 primarily because it was in the summer of that year, my wife and I were married. However, most of us alive during that year remember 1968 as a year of “agony and triumph.” In January, the USS Pueblo faced an attack by North Korea, and the crew captured. They would remain prisoners, tortured, and starved for the remainder of the year.
In Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4 at 6:01 p.m., while standing on his hotel balcony, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray. He was pronounced dead at 7:05. Following the event, riots and protests broke out across the country. That evening Robert Kennedy arrived in Indianapolis campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President. He would announce the event and call for people to remain peaceful, remembering the ideals for which King stood. On June 5, in Los Angeles, California, Robert Kennedy would be assassinated on stage by Sirhan Sirhan.
December brought the release of the 82 survivors of the USS Pueblo, with one sailor killed during the capture. Then, on Christmas Eve, 1968, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders, and Frank Borman became the first human beings to travel to the moon. As they circled the earth’s satellite, they read from the book of Genesis.
One other event occurred in 1968 that may not seem as noteworthy as all the other events. It happened on the last day of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. The final race, the marathon, represented a grueling race of 26 miles 385 yards or 42.195km. It was particularly tough in Mexico’s altitude, with 18 of the 75 runners dropping out along the way. Two hours, twenty minutes, and twenty-six seconds from the start Momo Wolde from Ethiopia crossed the finish line in first place.
More runners passed the line as the times moved closer to three hours. The medal ceremony took place, and most of the crowd had left. TV reporters had packed up, and radio announcers were giving their wrap-up when news came that there was still one runner left and headed toward the stadium. The time was approaching three and a half hours. More than an hour after Wolde had crossed the line.
The runner from Tanzania, John Stephen Akhwari, was the reigning African Champion. Akhwari, who had beaten Wolde before, was jostling for position around the 19km or 12-mile mark when he took a significant fall, severely injuring his leg. In pain, he had the medics bandage his severe injuries and continued on the race. TV reporters returned to the stadium. Spectators on their way out returned to their seats. Then through the stadium entrance onto the track, bandaged and limping in pain came Akhwari, three hours, twenty-five minutes, and twenty-seven seconds from the time he started.
Asked why, with his severe injuries, he didn’t give up, he responded that he thought of his mum and dad as he approached the end of the race. His father had taught him, “If you start doing something, finish it. Otherwise, never start it.” He went on to tell them, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
As I look through the events of 1968, each of these has one thing in common. There were times when those involved could have quit. Some times were rough and heartbreaking. It would have been easy for the events to take the courage and fortitude away from those involved. Mistakes and disappointments occurred, yet those involved endured the agony of events before and after winning in the end.
Each of us faces times in our lives where we would like to quit. Our lives exist with many kinds of struggles. Our struggles may be different from others, but they represent things in our lives that we have to deal with on an ongoing basis. Maybe it’s financial or family issues. Many have lost jobs during the pandemic and are seeking ways to survive. Others have lost loved ones, some well before we expected them to go. Friends and family face illnesses, some life-threatening.
Other disappointments seem minor to many but are paramount to those involved. Maybe a student is upset over a test grade. An employee faces depression because they were passed over for promotion. It could be the house we wanted to buy was sold to someone else.
Disappointments in life are real. Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to go. Unfortunately, some cannot make it through these times. People turn to alcohol or drugs to try to ease the pain. Depression turns to anger, resulting in family breakdowns. There are times we become so frustrated with ourselves, life, and people we want to give up and quit.
I get frustrated with life, other people, but mostly frustrated with myself. Sometimes I feel like just quitting. Sometimes I get tired of agendas, manipulative people, and the lack of knowledge we seem to have on God’s way of getting things done. I want to throw in the towel.
Then I think of two of the most frustrated men in the Bible. One was Moses. As I read Exodus and Numbers, I can see how he became so frustrated with ungrateful people. Two million complainers every day for 40 years. The other was Jesus. I see where he shed tears over Jerusalem’s people and even became frustrated because of the lack of faith and bickering among his closest followers.
But there is one thing that they did that makes me not give up. Neither of them ever quit on the people they were leading. Frustrated? Yes! Disappointed? Yes!. Fed up? Yes! But they never quit on them. Towards the end of the 40 years in the book of Numbers, Moses pleads with God not to destroy an ungrateful people. Jesus, on the cross, said, “Father, forgive them.”
When Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy died, Civil Rights didn’t die with them. When Ed White, Roger Chaffee, and Virgil “Gus” Grissom died on the launch pad in 1967, the space program didn’t fold. Eighty-two men never gave up as they faced torture in a foreign prison. A young African runner, severely injured and in pain, kept going, not quitting because he came “to finish the race.”
Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Voices speak to us in life to give up, to quit. We will face rejection and defeat. However, with God’s strength, we can survive and move on to better things. Life will be full of bumps in the road, but they will only keep us down if we let them. If something causes us to fall, we should get up, dust off our clothes, bandage our sores and keep moving forward. A better life does not come from quitting, but learning not to let our failures and falls keep us from living.
This year my wife and I will celebrate 53 years together. Next Monday, January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. remains remembered for what he stood for in the Civil Rights movement. Today every 90 minutes, six members of the space station will orbit the earth. Eighty-two sailors came home and reunited with their families. And what about John Stephen Akhwari? He returned home to a farm, a wife, and six children. In 1983 he received the National Hero Medal of Honor. This honor and others he would receive came not because he won a race. Instead, they were bestowed upon him for not quitting when others thought he should. Quitting never crossed his mind. His goal was “to finish the race.”
Paul, as he looked upon his years of ministry wrote to Timothy, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ